I was talking to a friend the other day, and she mentioned how many years she’d been working without a break.
I started to do the math for myself.
I started working when I was 18 or 19. Seriously working, full-time working.
The next couple of years I went through a few jobs, fired twice (once my own fault, once not, and then a few temp or short term jobs). Started my own business doing hauling and odd jobs, working as hard as I’ve ever worked in my life for crap pay (but damn, I looked good, tan and fit, hands calloused, covered with bruises and scratches. My hair was long and sun-bleached, I looked like a surfer and I was my own boss).
While the work wasn’t constant, there was no break; when I was outta work I was also completely out of money, no one taking care of me, no one funding me, and constantly struggling to get work.
By the time I was twenty-two or twenty-three, I had full time work (at Seagate). I worked there for three years, and then was laid off, and went to a startup company as quick as I could find work. That also ended in a layof,f after a couple years where I built computer systems, tested them, managed inventory, worked shipping and receiving, wired computer rooms and phone systems, and drove the company truck. After that I went on to my other most physical job, working in a used computer parts warehouse; a filthy, dusty warehouse full of the most amazing junk you’ve ever seen. I ran the warehouse, driving a forklift (god DAMN I was good at that), packing weird, heavy equipment, climbing pallet racks like a monkey to get shit we could not reach with a forklift. I came home every day sweaty, filthy, covered in greasy black dirt. The job sucked, but not because the work was hard; I liked that. No, it sucked because my boss was not just a crook, but a madman in all the wrong ways. But again, it was work that made me strong, and work that connected me, via a random association of friends-of-friends, into some friendships I still have today. And I thanked the boss when he fired me, saying I needed to get myself the fuck out of here.
From there, I went directly on to temp jobs; Apple being one of the places I work for a short time (in what’s now the iPod team headquarters building, though in between then and now it’s been several other companies), and then went to Sun; not a break in between.
Six years at Sun; hard work, and connections made, friends I still have. Some of them even read this blog. And then Cisco, a job I had before I even left Sun. Nine long hard years, where I learned to be an engineer (a complete career re-boot), got a taste of managing people, and burned myself out in a lot of ways, working harder and harder for little or no recognition (but for a good chunk of money thanks to the dotcom era). Cisco was where I learned how big corporations eat people alive.
And then out of Cisco and to Apple; another career reboot, moving from software to hardware; six and a half years now, both some of the best times and the worst times in my adult life (for reasons that have little to do with work, yet which make getting through the day and getting to work even harder than usual).
I add all this up, and I get something like twenty-seven years. That’s how long I’ve been working. Twenty-seven years, and while there are gaps in there, the gaps are times when I was trying desperately to find work. Not times when I had time.
Almost 8000 work days. 16000 commutes. 64000 if we only count eight hours a day; though I average more like ten hours a day in truth.
The numbers freak me out a little bit. This wasn’t quite how I visualized my life; wage slave.
I was talking to my friend Jeff – my long (very long) time friend, my tattoo brother, my former boss, my current bosses bosses boss (or something like that); and it was one of those bizarre conversations you can only get with a long time friend. It started with Jeff peeking over the divider between urinals while we were taking a leak; he’s theatrically checkin’ out the business; I of course, with the week I’m having, didn’t even notice that the man next to me was looking at my cock.
“You’re extra spaced today“, he said, and I had to agree. And Jeff is the kind of guy who’s seen me as spaced as I get, so he should know.
We started chatting – we don’t see each other as much as we used to at work. We talked about how hard we’re working, how burnt we both are; we talked about the tattoo I’m getting and my choice of who to do it. He asked how old my kids are now, and was aghast at the numbers I gave him. We stood looking at each other, shaved heads no longer tight and shiny, 5 o’clock shadow hair-lines receding now on their own under the shaving that has always been a style choice. Both of us with bright silver-gray threads in our facial hair that were not there a year or two ago.
“We’re fucking old, Jeff” I said to him, and he shook his head.
“This wasn’t how it was supposed to me,” he answered. And I agreed.
“We were supposed to be dead by now,” he said.
“That’s what I’d planned on on.”
He’s right. We didn’t figure, when we were twenty, on someday being tired, over-worked middle-aged guys. We rode our motorcycles and did drugs and didn’t always do safe things, we didn’t worry. We looked for risks to take. We were not afraid. We tattooed ourselves and pierced ourselves and didn’t think about what it’d be like to be old men.
Jeff’s right. We really were not meant to live this long; Jeff and I were our own sort of warriors, and we should have gone into battle of one sort or another, shone bright, flashed, and then gone down. Fight and drink and die.
Somehow we didn’t. And neither of us are sure how that happened. But it’s nice to have a brother there who understands.